Gisborne getting competitive
RUGBY by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
The Gisborne Boys’ High School first 15 are clawing their way to true competitiveness.
And while their oldest foes in rugby — Napier Boys’ High School — beat them 27-20 in Gisborne on Saturday to retain the Football Challenge Cup they’ve held since 2015, the Ryan Tapsell-coached Gisborne team took another step forward in their quest for Super 8 scalps.
GBHS won only two Super 8 games in their previous campaign and lost 24-0 to Napier away last season. The hosts’ match-effort on Rectory No.1 at the weekend was several steps up on the clash with NBHS in 2019 and two steps up, performance-wise, on the 30-10 loss in this year’s Super 8 opener against Palmerston North in Gisborne a fortnight ago.
On Saturday, both packs claimed two tightheads at scrum-time, and lineout ball against the throw, with 2019 GBHS first 15 team member Lochi Mead making a superb return to the Rectory for Napier. Blindside flanker Mead, 17, scored two tries, made his tackles, and was — on the day — the game’s best lineout forward, jumping at 2.
Equally impressive was Mead’s opposite, Gisborne’s Dylan Bronlund. His total involvement and madcap enthusiasm were inspirational. So, too, were the dogged defence and quality of the Gisborne Boys’ High MVP (most valuable player), openside flanker Ben Phelps.
Matiu Anderson, who replaced third-year man Tyla Keelan-Phillips as vice-captain Max Briant’s locking partner, was heavily involved in general play, in addition to his core roles as a tight forward.
The Gisborne team’s backline switch — former fullback King Maxwell going to first five-eighth, and first-five Carlos Hihi going to fullback, yielded excellent results.
Maxwell’s ability to run and kick gives him options born of elusiveness and deft touch with the boot, as opposed to mindless muscle.
Josh Whyte started at second-five for Puna Hihi (who scored a try against Palmerston North) and looked sharp.
Izaiah Fox, who switched wing spots — left to right — with Siope Fakahokotau, made ground every time he touched the ball and never submitted in the tackle.
Gisborne won ball at various points in the lineout with a fair few jumpers, and the Gisborne defence was good from the outset. Just as importantly, they were desperate and scrambled back in cover.
Napier outscored GBHS by four tries to three but the home team showed great “pride in the line” (their goal-line defence).
The Gisborne backs’ good length of pass, natural flair, skill to create space and then beat able defenders was evident. It is tempting to wonder what Maxwell and his associates might be able to do with front-foot ball against Moascar Cup holders Rotorua BHS here on Saturday.
GBHS skipper and tighthead prop Nathaniel Hauiti is now looking ahead to Super 8 Game 3.
“That was a hard, physical game,” he said.
“We kept things simple, we were aggressive, and we executed our game-plan. I’m proud of the effort we put in.”
Napier captain and No.8 Gilgal Leutele-Malasia, a third-year man with 38 caps, shared similar sentiments.
“Gisborne at home are a different team. They were strong on defence — their blazing line-speed caught us behind the advantage line — but well done to our boys for making the necessary adjustments. Gisborne gave us a few work-ons which we’ll attend to before we play Hastings at home this Saturday.”
On an overcast day in front of 1000 spectators, GBHS played with the wind in the first half and opened the scoring.
Maxwell missed his first attempt at a penalty goal two minutes into the game, but potted a penalty at the seven-minute mark for 3-0.
Napier struck back in the 13th minute. From a five-metre attacking scrum set eight metres to the right of the posts, first-five Lawson Gillies — for the second time in the match to that point — had to scramble back after a tough clearing pass. Six phases later the visitors had brought the ball back almost to the spot upon which the scrum had packed. Mead scored and Gillies converted for 7-3.
It was Gisborne’s turn to up the ante and they did, 17 minutes in. A lineout, 23m from Napier’s goal-line on the left touch, produced an overthrown ball that Bronlund tidied up at the tail of the lineout. Ten phases of play later, his team having worked to get within a body-length of the left goal-post, Maxwell took the ball and split the visitors’ defence to score nine metres wide of the posts. He then converted his own try, for 10-7 to Gisborne.
The first costly error of the match came in the 24th minute. From a GBHS restart at their own 22, the home team went long with the kick to halfway. Napier controlled the ball with vigour over five phases. The visitors, probing down the left side of the ground, let go the intercept pass and Gisborne right wing Siope Fakahokotau (another staff-made switch, from left-wing to right-wing) ran 70m hard and straight to score in the corner.
Maxwell could not convert from the touchline, but GBHS led 15-7 at that stage.
After 27 minutes, Poverty Bay referee Mark Green showed NBHS second-five Kaitiaki Broughton the yellow card for offside play.
Stung, NBHS reacted quickly. In the 30th minute, their captain made his presence felt. Mead won an attacking lineout for Napier on the left touch, 15m into GBHS territory, and the sky blues came in waves to the right. Fullback Sam Kanthavong put through a grubber-kick, GBHS scrambled in their 22, and twice their fearless forwards (first Mead, then second-rower Will Rickey) took the deepest of breaths before crunching into Gisborne vice-captain and lock Max Briant. The visitors had retained possession over, in effect, seven phases when Gilgal Leutele-Malasia bore through Gisborne’s last line of defence 15m to the left of the posts.
Gillies converted Napier’s second try to close it to 15-14.
A minute from halftime, Napier scored their third try. Five metres from the left corner on attack at the Gisborne end, Mead won good ball at the front of the lineout and, following five thrusts into Gisborne’s defence, NBHS openside flanker Max Ratcliffe — the hosts’ choice as Napier’s MVP — scored 10m in from the corner.
The try was not converted, but the Brendon Ratcliffe-coached Blues were in the lead, 19-15, at the break.
Referee Green allowed a great deal of rugby to be played but, equally, took no nonsense.
Hauiti’s crew made a powerhouse start from the resumption, with a well-deserved try to Bronlund seven minutes in. After GBHS had put their guests under pressure, Gillies having to restart play on Napier’s 22 with a tap-kick, GBHS fielded the ball at halfway and over a staggering 13 phases made their way to the visitors’ goal-line.
Hard grind from the likes of Hauiti and lock Matiu Anderson had put the home team in a prime attacking position when Bronlund pounced over to score 15m in from the right corner.
There was no conversion. Gisborne led 20-19.
Napier knew that they needed to be the next team to score, and so — in the 50th minute — they were.
From an attacking scrum set 12m from the GBHS goal-line, three metres to the right of the posts, the NBHS captain came hard off the back of the scrum for halfback Joel Russell running right-side. Four phases later, and Mead — on the left of a ruck — took a short pass from his skipper to score 10m to the right of the posts. Mead’s second try was unconverted, and Napier led 24-20.
In the 66th minute, misfortune struck. GBHS hooker Matariki Kaa (on his own 22, right touch), found Phelps at No.6 in the lineout, Gisborne shifted the ball left but were penalised for obstruction centrefield, 18m from the goal-line.
Gillies kicked the penalty goal — off the inside of the left post — for 27-20.
Also in Round 1 of the Super 8, Hastings got by Palmerston North 23-13 at Akina on Saturday, while last Thursday four-time defending Super 8 champions Hamilton accounted for New Plymouth 36-29 at Hamilton and Rotorua clung on to the Moascar Cup 16-15 at Raukura against Tauranga.
GBHS were within striking distance of Napier and NBHS play very good rugby.
They fielded a strong pack, left wing Korie Paio’s positional play and hustle on defence were excellent, and fullback Sam Kanthavong twice served notice of his class.
The first instance was a brilliant pass to vice-captain and centre Bethel Leutele-Malasia and the second was a kick-through for right wing Dougal Kerr.
GBHS head coach Tapsell has a team who are dedicated, have gained in fitness, skills and confidence, and have brought opposition scores down significantly.
Supporters of GBHS rugby should know that they have a sense of history, mateship and team culture all their own. And the players are becoming increasingly aware that they are capable of more.
“That game showed what our boys can achieve when they stick to the game-plan,” Tapsell said.
“King was outstanding as a game-driver, Ben’s defence was superb, Carlos played his best game so far at fullback and No.8 Nik Patumaka played well again,” Tapsell said.
“We might have taken advantage when Kaitiaki was sin-binned, but instead conceded two tries. We need to learn from that.”
Former Hawke’s Bay Magpies head coach Ratcliffe spoke passionately about the fixture and where he sees both his Napier side and Gisborne BHS, in light of the weekend’s events.
“It was a contest between two really proud teams,” he said.
“Gisborne did great work against Palmerston two weeks ago, and the biggest motivator for a proud team is the need to bounce back — and Gizzy bounced back today against us.
“Our boys held composure and they now understand the Rec, the crowd, what it means to their teams to play here. They’re good enough to beat Rotorua.”
Gisborne Boys’ High School v Napier BHS, on Rectory No.1 —
First 15s: GBHS 20 (K Maxwell, S Fakahokotau, D Bronlund tries; K Maxwell pen, con) NBHS 27 (L Mead 2, G Leutele-Malasia, M Ratcliffe tries; L Gillies pen, 2 con).
Halftime: 19-15 (NBHS).
Second 15s: GBHS 0 NBHS 27 (C Free 2, S Drinkrow, R Tawhai tries; C Berkett pen, con, K Barham con).